Creating the Ability to ‘Reach’

I am not really a crystal ball gazer as a lot of gifted people are and have lived with simple principles and ideologies. Being a citizen of India and a technologist focusing on payments and financial markets, my thrust has always been thinking about how these technologies can create a better life for people.  People would dream of green fields, poverty free India and a whole lot of other things. I dream of an India where every individual in this country connects to an electronic payment highway for performing transactions just as they use cash to do these transactions. Yes, this idea sounds absolutely outrageous and childish. But the overall hypothesis stems from the fact that a connected India means an included India, where every person in this great nation has access to the same/similar services as every other person does. At the heart of this is the payments ecosystem.

I am not really a crystal ball gazer as a lot of gifted people are and have lived with simple principles and ideologies. Being a citizen of India and a technologist focusing on payments and financial markets, my thrust has always been thinking about how these technologies can create a better life for people.  People would dream of green fields, poverty free India and a whole lot of other things. I dream of an India where every individual in this country connects to an electronic payment highway for performing transactions just as they use cash to do these transactions. Yes, this idea sounds absolutely outrageous and childish. But the overall hypothesis stems from the fact that a connected India means an included India, where every person in this great nation has access to the same/similar services as every other person does. At the heart of this is the payments ecosystem.

This highway, as I visualise, carries not only the transactions for purchase of goods, but also carries the small transactions such as deposits, withdrawals, remittances etc.

Today, India is the world’s largest democracy; its cultural diversity and traditions interspersed with a strong entrepreneurial focus has created ample opportunities for the newer generation to ride on. As we look from a strong urban centric approach, we have grown in all spheres, be it industry or providing basic citizen services such as education and healthcare. But, there seems to be something amiss. Definitely amiss!

The biggest irony – A nation of over a billion people, 70 per cent of which resides in the rural areas, we are not able to provide even basic banking facilities to more than 50 per cent of the country’s population. Banking is one of the four strong pillars of any high growth economy, which include education, healthcare and infrastructure (which includes power also). When I talk about banking facilities, it does not mean just opening bank accounts, but the ability to provide credit to those hundreds and thousands of small entrepreneurs, who want to contribute in their own simple ways from riding their own cycle rickshaws to using efficient technologies for farming on their small farms to increase their produce.

I want to see an inclusive growth whereby lives and livelihoods of these same people can undergo a sea-change by providing and creating markets for them and their goods. Once again, there would be non-believers who would say this is an ambitious and no realisable goal, but the essence of any growing economy lies in the ability to improve the livestock of practically the entire population so that it drives consumption and hence growth. I am sure this market oriented growth model will help India surpass China in GDP growth.

However, to link, to connect all of this in this digital age is absolutely unthinkable without IT. We call ourselves the birthplace and cradle of IT civilisation (from the time Aryabhat came out with the decimal system to the emergence as an IT powerhouse), but have missed the basic essence while striving hard to ensure that a person in smoother country is able to access their systems efficiently and without any downtime.  This has germinated an idea for creation of an electronic payments highway which connects not only the large metropolises and cities, but also the hinterlands in one homogenous ecosystem, where there are multiple service providers and multiple consumers of these services. We are still at very infant stage in this sector, the technology and system which we are in is at its basics and we have the great opportunity for creating a well established payments system in this country.

The foundation stone has already been put in place by the regulators as well as the banks. However, there are other areas which can really catapult growth and take us to the next level. The basic tenets still would revolve around the fundamental principles of:

  • Creation of a strong and solid Infrastructure
  • Innovation on Services to be offered or provided
  • Using technology to create differentiation and finally, the most important
  • Capacity building to reach scale and ensure services availability.

This will definitely help us bridge any kind of an urban-rural divides and make the country feel like one village.

Infrastructure

Today, we are fortunate to the telecom boom that has resulted in a strong data infrastructure across the country. We have seen talks of broadband connectivity across the country at affordable prices. Connectivity, although a challenge at some places in the country, has been assumed to be there. We have better electronic infrastructure as compared to the physical infrastructure and I definitely feel this should be utilised to its fullest extent and not only for voice telephony.

Service Innovation

The biggest challenge lies in creating or providing services at the rural level at the most affordable prices. This brings in various theories to address the bottom of the pyramid, where there is a large scale and who also have their aspirational value. By providing these people not only with banking facilities, but also other services, on tap has and will be the way to grow. Banks have been questioning the viability of the Business Correspondent model. Our take is that you cannot just look at banking as one silo but also include other services along with this to provide a complete suite. But, the right technology is one that is user-friendly and extremely easy to use for a layman.

A different approach has to be taken to individual situations, like for example, using biometrics in providing certain services will definitely be overkill when the same can be provided through an application on a phone. However, the reality is that without using technology, the ability to reach and churn out different types of services will become a challenge.

I foresee to create such innovative solution to provide access to mass services for villagers which is widely available, and provides the single window service point which is capable of serving the customer with bare minimum per transaction cost.  This will lead to create the base for reaching the citizens of this nation with bundle of services which is available at single point.

Technology is the Differentiator

Ultimately, technology is the key enabler and differentiator in accomplishing this dream, without which this would seem like a mirage. When I look at technology, the scope for innovation is immense – right from biometric based systems to mobile based applications to simple Interactive Voice Response based applications. But the key element to think here is that it is not a one-size-that-fits-all approach.

A different approach has to be taken to individual situations, like for example, using biometrics in providing certain services will definitely be overkill when the same can be provided through an application on a phone. However, the reality is without using technology, ability to reach and churn out different services will become a challenge I foresee to create this technological differentiation which will help in spread of this infrastructure till every single town & village, with an opportunity to generate employment. This will not only give the services to the mass but will open a gateway for service providers to reach these areas with their product and service offerings. The technological differentiation will help in creating the cost effective model to accept this as a profitable business solution.

Capacity Building –Ability to “Reach”

Reach will be a critical factor in creating the acceptability of this dream. This will establish the availability of services in a widespread market, which will tend to provide a base for major players to link themselves with it to reach the deep rural mass. Spread of service infrastructure will lead to create the availability in market, by which access to villagers will increase towards various facilities. This service availability along with widespread infrastructure will provide the backbone to economy by reaching the mass in a very formal and structured manner. Due to this reasonable amount of security factor will be created around this model to provide the customer confidence at the transaction points.

Spread of service infrastructure will lead to create the availability in market, by which access to villagers will increase towards various facilities. This service availability along with widespread infrastructure will provide the backbone to economy by reaching the mass in a very formal and structured manner.

I foresee to spread these services to all those regions where no one have reached to fulfill the demand. Thinking beyond limitations of accessibility to this infrastructure the services will be made available in unified manner wherein a customer can take same benefit out of it from any other service point.

There in Lies the Opportunity

Opportunity is everywhere!!! One needs an expert’s eye to see it from the positive angle to create the differentiation. A positive thinking, with a positive attitude will turn opportunity into favourable condition much like the story of two shoe salesmen in Africa – one said there wasn’t any market as nobody wore a shoe and the other said that there was a great market here since nobody wore a shoe.

This model, enunciated here, will not only create the opportunity for mass employment but also will establish the touch points in those areas which are secluded. Reach to these secluded areas will in-turn provide the access to those markets which are not yet explored, but has the great potential in it.

Opportunity for every one, opportunity which can create the differentiation, this will help our economy to include the secluded markets which will lead to overall growth of business environment.

The Final Citadel –Inclusive Growth

The word “inclusive growth” has a lot of different connotations. Inclusive growth can be created by not only including the society or mass into a well established financial system, but an overall economic growth spiral where strong entrepreneurial culture breeds as well as brings the socially neglected sections at par with rest of the country.

This will help us in creating a true democracy, where one and all have equal access to all facilities. It is through infrastructure, service-level innovations, using the right technology and creating a scale that will ensure that we are able to bring in the all people and citizens into a common fold.

Availability of connectivity and right technology will help unfold the growth trajectory with a momentum as we would be able to scale much faster.

Employment opportunities will also be created to establish this network, as reach increases the more and more number of people will start associating with it hence providing the growth to rural areas.

This is .indeed the DREAM that I see! Dream to propel the inclusive growth by establishing a technological infrastructure to serve the country, indeed this will bring the opportunities ahead for everyone.

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